COA addresses first impression issue regarding education under civil rights law

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The Indiana Court of Appeals – with one judge reluctantly doing so – affirmed a decision by an administrative law judge that found a religious organization unlawfully retaliated against a family by expelling them from the homeschooling group. The expulsion occurred after the family sought a dietary accommodation for their teenage daughter at a social event and later filed a complaint with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society Inc. is a private, nonprofit religious organization founded by Catholic parents to provide religious, educational and social enrichment opportunities for their homeschooled children. Elizabeth Bridgewater and her daughter Alyssa belonged to the organization where Alyssa took several educational courses that did not relate to religion.

Alyssa requires dietary accommodations because of a life-threatening allergic reaction to certain foods. Her mother, who was planning a masquerade ball in 2008 for the teenage members of the group, sought a special meal for Alyssa. FACES co-founder Vanessa Alexander denied the request and said Alyssa could bring in a meal. Her ticket would not be discounted, and Bridgewater was later removed from planning duties by Alexander.

The Bridgewaters filed a complaint with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission alleging discrimination. FACES then expelled the family citing four reasons, including that Bridgewater contacted the event venue after she was told not to. The family then alleged that FACES unlawfully retaliated against them because they filed the accommodation complaint.

An administrative law judge found it could rule on the matter despite the group’s religious affiliation because it was “related to education” under I.C. 22-9-1-3(1). The ALJ also held FACES didn’t commit an unlawful discriminatory practice, but did unlawfully retaliate against the family. The ALJ ordered $2,500 in damages to Alyssa, that FACES re-admit the family, and that it post this decision on all websites on which FACES communicated information about the case.

“What ‘relates to’ education under Indiana’s civil rights law is the threshold, first-impression issue disputed by the parties, and the first question facing this Court,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in the majority opinion in Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society, Inc. v. Elizabeth Bridgewater o/b/o Alyssa Bridgewater, 93A02-1202-EX-145.  "… [W]e believe that a group – even a religious one – may take certain steps to place itself within the purview of the ICRC in this state. In determining whether this has occurred, we believe it is necessary to consider the group’s nature and educational features; particularly the level of the group’s formality and the delivery and substance of the education it provides.”

Vaidik pointed to FACES steps to formalize itself – it has a board of directors, offers non-religious courses, and the structure of the classes.

“The ICRC inquired into FACES’ accommodation of Alyssa’s dietary needs and retaliatory expulsion of the Bridgewater family. There is simply no religious entanglement issue here – there is no evidence that either of these inquiries resulted in governmental interference with the tenets of the Catholic faith.”

The COA affirmed the damages award to Alyssa but reversed the order that FACES must post the ALJ’s decision on all websites where it discusses the case.

Judge L. Mark Bailey concurred in result reluctantly, he wrote, because he doesn’t think matters “relating to …education” as provided by the Indiana Civil Rights Law should encompass a social function like the ball.

“I do not think, based upon the language of the ICRL, that the ICRC would have properly had subject matter jurisdiction over the Bridgewaters’ complaint were it not for FACES’s retaliatory conduct,” he wrote.

Bailey would hold that the order that Alyssa be readmitted only extends to those activities of FACES that are specifically educational rather than social.

“I do not think that the legislature’s broad intent when it enacted our civil rights statutes involved making the ICRC and our courts arbiters of such private disputes as have arisen between FACES and the Bridgewaters,” he added.



Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.